The Great Zimbabwe


2 Plays

For a good while now, I’ve been stuck in a strange Splotter Game limbo.  On the one hand, I have loved my plays of Bus for the nail-biting worker placement stress that it brings to the table in such brilliantly pure way.  On the other hand, I still remember feeling so overwhelmed by the decision space and ripple effect strategies of Food Chain Magnate that Camille and I decided to pack up the game and give it back to its owner rather than invest such an enormous amount of energy and brain power.

Knowing that Bus is Splotter’s most approachable game simply made me hesitant to try anything else, as I wasn’t looking for another behemoth design to add to my collection simply for it to collect dust.  Yet with the recent reprinting of The Great Zimbabwe, I finally wilted to the Splotter effect and picked up my second title from their offering.

The Great Zimbabwe caught my eye because it doesn’t feature an overwhelming menu of cards, nor does it run the risk of lasting 4 hours.  Rather, this game comes with a clean board of land and water spaces on a grid, a handful of resource and artisan tiles, a few simple cards, some wooden player discs, and a pile of money in the shape of cows.  I was also drawn to this game simply because of how unique it feels compared to anything else I’ve ever seen.

The object of the game is to get your point marker to reach your victory requirement disc.  All player discs start at 20 points, yet your personal finish line can move further and further away (up to double your starting distance—40!) if you greedily add any advantages to your tableau.  These advantages come in the form of technology cards, god cards, and specialist cards.  It’s a thrilling temptation to have constantly dangling in front of you, because many of these cards offer mega-powerful, rule-breaking abilities.  So will you attempt to play a quick, clean game using only the standard options at your disposal, or will you plunge into the deep end by enjoying the card-benefits now and worrying about the consequences later?

What you’re doing from round to round is bidding cows for turn order (with the paid cows getting evenly distributed back to all players), and then adding artisan tiles to the board or paying those artisans to help you raise your monuments.  The spatial requirements of placing artisans and accessing their goods is the beating heart of The Great Zimbabwe.  Artisans must be within three spaces of resource sites, and your monuments must be within three spaces of artisans, but a blob of water counts as one big space, and you can use anybody’s monuments as “hubs” to reset your three space limit—sort of like a refuel station.

It makes for a refreshingly unique puzzle, especially once you wrap your brain around it.  I’ll admit, I had to watch a playthrough, read the rulebook, and then watch a How to Play video to finally wrap my brain around this wonky design.  I’ve observed that Splotter doesn’t write the best rulebooks either, so that certainly doesn’t help the onboarding experience.  Fortunately, all that effort has absolutely paid off for us.

At its core, The Great Zimbabwe is a tight economic struggle between all players where every single decision you make has a massive impact on the entire group.  Budgeting your cows wisely between the turn order bids, artisan construction expenses, specialist abilities, and monument raising requirements is vital to a competitive strategy.  When one player appears to be running away with the victory, you can really shake things up by putting out a secondary artisan or raising the prices of your goods to soul-gouging heights.  Such a move just might buy you enough time for a late come-back victory.

In a lot of ways, this one reminds me of some of my all-time favorite Euros including Age of Steam, Brass, and… how about that, Bus.  It’s a game that is not afraid to step out of the way and let the players crash into each other or fly off a cliff as they grapple with the emergent strategies and dynamic game board.

At any rate, I haven’t even won The Great Zimbabwe yet; my two opponents have both gotten the best of me in some absolutely tight competitions, but I’ve come away from these 3-player games hungry for more.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is the best new-to-me, published game that I’ve encountered this year.  

Current Rating: 9/10


Switch & Signal

Switch & Signal, KOSMOS, 2022 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2 Plays

It’s time to make good on my anticipatory blog post from *checks calendar* 1.5 years ago. One of my most anticipated games of 2021 was in fact a 2020 release titled Switch & Signal, so here I am, finally talking about the game after playing it in July of 2022.  I take no blame for the drawn out conclusion, as Kosmos waited 17 whole months before releasing their game in other languages besides German.  As the saying goes: “The best time to release a game is after the hype train is long gone…” or something along those lines.  That’s why we here at Bitewing Games follow the tried and true crowdfunding model of big splashy campaign, small pledge manager rekindling, delay, delay, delay, delay, and then release 😆.

Fortunately, many crowdfunded games get a second wind when they finally deliver to backers and critics as they board the second hype train.  But I’m not sure that Switch & Signal benefitted from a second train or second wind of any kind, as its North American release earlier this year seemed to go largely quiet and unnoticed.  What this one needed was a third hype train, one of critical acclaim and internet recognition to remind us all that this cooperative train game was worth a look.

Having played and enjoyed both sides of the game board (Central Europe and North America), I too can confirm that this is a solid experience. In Switch & Signal, you’ll take turns resolving a departure card before spending your hand of cards as actions.  Departure cards can deploy new trains and/or trigger train movement.  You’ll also have cards that let you push trains even further along their set path, but most of your cards let you manipulate the switches and signals of the train tracks.  The objective is to route your trains toward cube-filled cities so all the cubes can be delivered to a port before time runs out.  Each train can only carry one cube, and they tend to come from all different directions moving at a wide range of speeds, and therein lies the challenge of the game.

These moving trains will constantly be threatening to encounter delays, hit dead ends, take unintended detours, or collide with other trains, so it’s up to you and the gang to keep the trains on task and the cubes en route to their destination.  Switch & Signal poses a simple gameplay loop to rival that of Pandemic, and it provides a solid, unique, thematic, and engaging cooperative experience.  It constantly offers up interesting decisions from which train type to deploy, which risks are top priority, how should your hand be used, which direction should you send each train, and when should you activate your one-time-use helpers?  

Although it’s best to adapt to whatever enters your hand from the draw pile, you can always discard two cards as a wild action.  You’ll constantly be pressured to blow all of your cards in a single turn.  The pressure comes in the form of losing time via inefficient train directing.  Each problem you allow will accelerate your defeat as you spend time tokens and lose departure cards.  But if you can manage to conserve your cards and overlook smaller risks, that often pays off later when you find yourself needing a larger hand in a future turn.

Despite hitting all the right notes, Switch & Signal is not able to overcome the usual weaknesses of the cooperative genre.  The opportunity for quarterbacking is wide open here, and alpha gamers will struggle to resist bossing their teammates around when those precious cubes and time tokens are at stake.  Even worse, there’s really no benefit to having more players at the table.  It’s effectively a solo game where your turns are divided among all the participants.  Yet as a 2 player game, it’s perfectly fine.

The bigger issue, at least for me, is that I already feel like I’ve seen and experienced everything that Switch & Signal has to offer.  As with many other cooperative games—once you’ve conquered the challenge and sampled the entire menu, you lose the hunger to come back for more.  Tweaking the difficulty by subtracting a departure card or two isn’t interesting enough to keep me coming back for more.  It’s far different from a competitive game, where the interactive struggle between players continually breathes new life into the core gameplay loop.

I’ve found that my favorite cooperative games tend to contain at least one of these key ingredients:

  • Virtually Endless Content.  Games like The Crew and MicroMacro (and their sequels) keep me coming back for more because there is always a new objective to overcome or a fresh case to crack.  When games like Switch & Signal offer nothing new and enticing to rekindle my curiosity or push me out of my usual strategy or stretch me beyond my current skill level, then I quickly lose interest.
  • Brutally Challenging & Thoroughly Tense Gameplay.  Cooperative games don’t always have to be packed with content or variety to hold my attention—sometimes all I need is a good challenge.  Despite having “seen it all,” I’m happy to return to games like The Mind, Regicide, or Siege of Runedar because I know these titles will put up a good fight.  These are all games that destroyed us on our first few plays, yet they allowed us enough hope to not give up entirely.  With Switch & Signal, we won both of our plays.  The first session was thrillingly close, mind you, but I’d prefer to lose my initial attempts at a cooperative or solo game rather than conquer it instantly.

The good news is that the rulebook implies that designer David Thompson has concocted expansion content for Switch & Signal to help give the game a longer lifespan.  The bad news is that Kosmos took 17 months to localize the game to English, and even 2 years after its debut there are no signs of any expansion being brought to life.  But even if the core game experience ends up being all that we ever get, I suppose it remains a solid train ride that is worth the trip, and even the occasional revisit, for folks who can spare the investment.

Current Rating: 7/10


Front Cover

3 Plays

One aspect I appreciate about Reiner Knizia’s ludography is that it spans a wide spectrum of genres and styles… You have epic cooperative challenges such as Lord of the Rings and Siege of Runedar, family friendly romps including Quest for El Dorado and Whale Riders, dynamic and deep strategy games including Babylonia and Stephenson’s Rocket, simple lively crowd pleasers like Soda Smugglers and Rapido, unique and novel concepts including Tajuto and Pumafiosi, and tense 2-player tug of wars such as Royal Visit and Battle Line.  If I were to reduce my collection down to purely Knizia designs, I would still have a great game to satisfy almost any group or setting.

Not only does he provide a wide spanning breadth of offerings, but he also plunges deep into various genres by iterating on his most compelling concepts.  You’ll find some of the key tile placement ingredients of classic Through the Desert in Blue Lagoon and Orongo.  You’ll enjoy the shared incentive betting of Winner’s Circle in Equinox.  You’ll recognize the clever scoring of Ra in Sumatra and Ra: The Dice Game.  And you’ll spot the game-of-chicken auctions from Taj Mahal in Beowulf: The Legend and Karate Tomate.  If you find something you really love about a Knizia game, odds are that you can find that favorite flavor with a unique twist in several other designs in his catalogue.

Longboard is another such game that sees Reiner iterating on the core concept of a popular game series—namely Lost Cities.  In both games, players are committing to runs of cards in various colors by playing ascending values into their personal tableaus.  The difference in Lost Cities is that your hand remains hidden from your opponent, yet you are strictly limited in hand size and constantly forced to play or discard cards far earlier than you’d like.  With Longboard, you don’t have a private hand or even a card limit.  Rather, your supply of cards is public information and open to a form of thievery—forced trades.

In Longboard, your turn consists of two actions of your choice: draw a card from the deck and add it to your supply, take a card from your supply and add it to your tableau, or swipe a card from an opponent’s supply and replace it with higher value card(s) from your own supply.

Those two key differences—public hands and forced trades—go a long way in making Longboard feel drastically different from Lost Cities.  Other differences include a wider player count (2-4), randomized objective cards (for bonus points), and milder scoring.  You’ll still be punished for not completing a surf board that you started, but the punishment is merely 1 or 2 negative points rather than Lost Cities’ 10 or 20 or more.

Of course I enjoy the Lost Cities style of tense card play that Longboard provides, but I appreciate it most for how it stands out in my collection.  When an opponent displays a highly coveted card in their supply that would be perfect for one of your growing longboards, you’ll spend the next few moments desperately hoping that nobody claims it before your next turn.  You’ll let out a sigh of relief if it survives the gauntlet, only to realize that the only way you can acquire that card is by giving up one or more valuable cards from your own supply!  What if your forced trade helps your opponent more than it helps you?  What if you give up a card that you’ll need later?  How will you spend your two actions?  If you leave cards in your supply for too long, they’ll get swiped away right before you were planning to play them.

Within this casual space of 20 to 30-minute gaming, Longboard certainly hits the spot.  Folks who prefer tighter, spicier, and more punishing experiences in this field are likely to prefer Lost Cities or Arboretum.  But if you enjoy exploring the differences, then you’ll certainly find something to appreciate within Longboard.

Current Rating: 7.5/10

Back Cover

Carpe Diem

The new cover of Carpe Diem (2021).

1 Play

Carpe Diem!  Seize the day!  A game with such an ambitious title must surely be an ambitious design, correct?  Well… if only.

After playing five other Stefan Feld games, I can definitely confirm that Carpe Diem is also a Stefan Feld game 😆.  The point salad force is strong with this one.  You’ve got your turn order track (which will score you points at the end of the game).  You’ve got your resource collection (which will convert into points at the end of the game if you haven’t spent them on points earlier).  You’ve got your tile drafting and placement (which will gain you resources and/or points when you complete buildings and fields).  And you’ve got your objective card selection (which will score you points both during the game and at the end).  Indeed, Carpe Diem is a Feld, through and through.  Unfortunately, it’s the most soulless Feld of the six I’ve played and perhaps the most soulless Euro I’ve played this year.

What do I mean by soulless?  Well the tiles consist of plain old rooftops and fields—blobs and rectangles of red and grey and purple and brown.  The resources are coins, fish, bread, leaves, grapes, and chickens—you know, Roman stuff.  The primary driver of points is a large display of bland objective cards that demand things like: “Pay 2 chickens for 4 points,” “Build a green building for 3 points,” “Build a gray building for 3 points” “Build two fields for 5 points,” and so on.  The tile placement is like Carcassonne (connect matching sides of square tiles), but with all of the competitive joy sucked out.  The tile drafting consists of moving your person to one of two spots and selecting one tile from up to four options—move, take, place, rinse, & repeat.

The design is fine, mind you.  The decision making is substantial and the mechanisms are coherent.  There’s nothing here that would make you hate the game, necessarily.  Yet Carpe Diem is devoid of any personality whatsoever.  Where is the imagination here?  What makes this one stand out in any way from the haystack of Euros both old and new?  What kind of experience is this immersing players in aside from a bone-dry efficiency puzzle?  The game only lasted an hour, yet somehow it felt like two.  If I had to accuse any game of being generated by a lifeless algorithm—just input a few mechanisms and let it spew out an instant answer—then Carpe Diem would be my chief suspect.  I suppose that’s the most efficient way to make a game.  Seize the day, indeed.

Current Rating: 5/10


1 Play

Despite my being a huge Knizia fan, there are certain releases that even I will pass on (or at least hesitate to purchase), one of those being Sumatra after it garnered a lukewarm critical reception.  But the fact that I enjoyed Ludonova’s other Knizia Games (Babylonia and Siege of Runedar) is what led me to finally try Sumatra.

Despite having a pretty box cover, I imagine that Sumatra didn’t make a huge splash upon its release largely because of its simple premise and recycled concepts.  No particular aspect of the gameplay necessarily leaps out at onlookers and demands to be explored.  All you’re doing in the game is drafting from a public pile of tiles or moving your tiny traveler to the next space.  There are no lively auctions or crunchy economics or elaborate puzzles to acquire what you need—simply pick a tile or march onward!

The most engaging aspect of this island excursion game comes from the combination of the player-driven tempo and clever set collection scoring.  You and your opponents travel around the island in a large pack, as if you are following a tour guide and exploring the flora, fauna, scenery and villages while interacting with inhabitants and collecting local crafts.  If one player strays ahead of the pack, then the others are forced to catch up, but they can linger behind just a little longer to squeeze one more tile out of that site.

The never-ending question that the game poses to players is this: Which is more worthwhile—hanging back to soak in the available opportunities or racing ahead for first dibs on yet unknown mysteries?  It’s a game of opportunity costs where you’ll constantly be missing out on some expedition experiences because you were too focused on others.  Sometimes you’ll resent your fellow travelers for pulling you away from exciting encounters; other times, you’ll quickly grow bored of an area’s offerings and push the tour ahead far sooner than others are ready for.  Honestly, it’s a brilliant theme for a set collection game, even if it’s a bit quirky.

You’re not only gaining encounters with and memories of people and wildlife, but you’re also managing your travel equipment and hunting for GPS signals.  Each player gets a large travel notebook for collecting their tiles, and each row presents a unique incentive.  All tiles will score you positive or negative points at the end of the game, but some will earn you bonus point badges or bonus tile drafts along the way.  

The inhabitant row presents a competitive majority track, where you’ll be rewarded or punished for having the most or least inhabitant tiles, respectively.  The craft row provides snowballing points that pushes you into becoming an obsessive collector once you get a taste of the island materialism.  The flora and fauna must be combined in pairs in order to score, but you can push your luck and spread them out because you’ll only score the higher valued tile from each pair.  GPS devices and reception tiles also form pairs, but rather than score points on their own they help you to discover lost/unobtainable tiles.  Villages are great to visit, but the entire row is all or nothing scoring depending on if you have more pairs of GPS/reception tiles than village tiles.  Volcanoes are high risk and high reward, as they should be, scoring you negative points or positive points depending on if you acquired enough equipment to match the volcano.  And finally, the equipment row is vital in that all your tiles in a column are invalid unless that column has at least one equipment tile, yet stacking three of a kind in one space can lead to a 15 point swing from equipment and volcano points—so will you stack or spread your equipment?

While you’ll spend the entire game wrestling with all of these competing incentives on your personal board, you’ll also be gunning for the bonus point badges that are awarded to the first player to collect x amount of tiles in a row or column.  This badge mechanism is an essential element that helps maintain a tension of table competition and tough decisions.  It makes Sumatra feel less like a lazy, rejuvenating vacation and more like a stressful, demanding adventure.

Sumatra presents yet another example for why Reiner is a master of compelling set collection and interesting scoring.  Although, folks who are familiar with his broader work will recognize that Sumatra borrows much from other Knizia classics, most notably Ra.  Sumatra takes the fascinating set collection of Ra and combines it with the tense player-driven tempo of Whale Riders.  This combination makes for a solid design and an enjoyable experience, yet the purity and simplicity of Sumatra also means that it struggles to stand out from its peers.

Whale Riders provides a lightning quick action efficiency romp.  Ra delights with agonizing auctions and nail-biting push-your-luck rounds.  Both of these games are also surprisingly great from their lowest to highest player counts.  In many ways, Sumatra feels less enticing, more niche, and somewhat redundant.  It’s a questionable addition to my collection with limited shelf space and even more limited opportunities to get these games to the table.  The game also takes a hit when one compares productions and approachability—where Ra (the newest version) puts everything you need to learn and remember about the setup and scoring directly onto the player boards, Sumatra presents bare player boards and a single, clumsy side aid.  Sumatra also desperately needs yet is bafflingly missing a score pad to help players tally their scores across the 9 rows of tiles and extra badge tokens.  

In spite of all these drawbacks, I still found myself enjoying Sumatra.  Maybe it’ll happen sooner than I think, but right now I’m reluctant to get rid of the game.  I’m keen to revisit this solid experience with further plays, but it probably won’t hit the table nearly as frequently as the rest of my Knizia collection.

Current Rating: 7/10

Green Team Wins

GTW cover

1 Play

Green Team Wins is one of the hot new releases from Origins Game Fair 2022 targeted squarely at parties of any shape or size.  The objective is simple: Get on the Green Team, stay on the Green Team, and win.

This game comes loaded with 12 player boards and markers, but you could even combine two boxes into a mega-group bonanza.  That’s because the gameplay is pacy and light.  Everyone is asked the same question, there are three types—fill in the blank, best of three, this or that.  These questions can be things such as: Curly fries or Waffle fries?  Captain ______?  Euro Games or Ameritrash Games (this one is from the Board Gamer promo pack)?  Then, all players will secretly write down an answer—either one that aligns with their preferences or one that they predict will be the most popular.  Finally, all players reveal their answer with the most popular response becoming the winner.

A winning answer will allow you to jump from the orange team to the green team and score one point.  From there, you want to try and continue your hot streak, as you’ll get two points with future correct answers as an existing green team member, and you’ll be demoted back to the pitiful orange team the moment you don’t choose the most popular answer.

It’s silly, simple, and quick.  Those who prefer to get more nuanced or strategic party games to the table (e.g. Codenames, Decrypto, Wavelength, So Clover, etc.) will likely be left unsatisfied.  On the other hand, it’s basically impossible to be upset with a crowd-pleasing game that only lasts 15 minutes (unless your group insists on playing it 10 times in a row, I suppose).  Plus, I can’t think of any game that engages this large of a crowd this well (we’re talking 12, 15, or 20… if you have a second copy), so it definitely has a place in the right gathering.

Current Rating: 6/10

box back flat

Wonderland’s War

Box Cover - Cheshire

1 Play

Another title from my “games I’d love to play but I’m too cheap to buy” bucket list is the recently released Wonderland’s War, which I’ve heard is a killer combination of Quacks of Quedlinburg and Rising Sun.

I’m already a fan of these genres—push-your-luck, bag building, and area control—and Wonderland’s War is a newborn baby of these parent genres.  More specifically, it’s a baby that has had its milk spiked with caffeine and steroids.  Those who acquire a copy of the game (especially the deluxe Kickstarter edition) will also likely need to knockout a wall in their home to give it ample space to reside.  This isn’t your average newborn, it’s a Paul Bunyan-sized baby.

The bits and bobs and tokens and trays know no bounds, but at the end of the day the most important part of the game is it’s gameplay experience.  You’ll be adding troops to various regions of Wonderland, acquiring more recruits into your bagged army of tokens, gaining powerful Wonderlandians to aid your conquest, unlocking asymmetric character abilities to use to your advantage, striving to avoid madness which plagues your supply, embarking on secret quests to gain bonus points, and pushing-your-luck in bag-draw battles.

Normally, in an area control game such as this, the number of troops in a region equates to the amount of strength you have against your competition.  In Wonderland’s War, that is not the case.  More troops is still a good thing, but that only means you have a better chance of surviving the battle long enough to score points from the region.

Your strength in a region, and thus your ability to score 1st or 2nd place points, is mainly determined by whatever “ally chips” you draw from your bag.  Just like Quacks, all players involved in the conflict will simultaneously draw tokens one-by-one from their customized concoction of chips.  These chips have unique types and strengths, and their abilities are dependent on whatever ally cards you set out for that session.  One ability will score you bonus points, another with double the strength of the next chip drawn, and other might trigger your character ability.  There are as many ally card abilities as there are sands of the desert sea.  So with all these possible combinations, you are unlikely to want for more variety.

But as all push-your-luck games go, it’s possible to draw the bad things out of your bag—namely madness chips.  These will progressively weaken your presence on the board until you evaporate from existence, assuming you or your opponents don’t bow out first.  So deciding when to quit drawing and concede a battle can be a tough but vital decision—2nd place region points are better than no points at all.

Another reason you might back out of a heated battle comes from the secret Quest cards which encourage you to do things like end a battle in a specific location at a specific number of strength which will reward you with 3 points for doing so.  This can be a disheartening decision to those who bet on you winning the battle only to discover that you had ulterior motives.  But more than that, these quests feel unexciting, arbitrary, and undermining when compared to the focus of the game.  Much like other games with private objective cards that are drawn mid-game, you can easily draw yourself into an objective that you already accidentally completed just as easily as you can end up with a hopeless dud.

For me, the real meat of Wonderland’s War comes from the combination of unrestrained bag building, engaging push-your-luck battles, and competitive jockeying for region control.  If the box was half as big and the playtime half as long, I’d be twice as eager to plunge further down this rabbit hole.

Current Rating: 7.5/10

What’s Wonderland without a tea party?

Beowulf: The Legend

FFG box cover

1 Play

Beowulf: The Legend is yet another seemingly forgotten Knizia design from nearly two decades ago.  In board game years, that practically makes it an ancient artifact.  This is one that I never hear anyone talk about aside from Mark Bigney of the So Very Wrong About Games podcast.  Yet this is actually one of Mark’s all-time favorite Knizias.  While we don’t exactly agree on everything (Babylonia is, in fact, a masterpiece Mark!), there is no denying that the man knows his Knizias.

I waited far longer than I should have to try Beowulf: The Legend.  Frankly, the theme and production aren’t the most approachable in Reiner’s catalogue.  While the art is evocative, it doesn’t exactly stand out from the thousands of other games that feature dragons and swords.  Even worse, the game board features a winding trail of 36 microscopic spaces with text and icons that almost require a magnifying glass.  Unboxing the game and cracking open that rulebook for the first time required an unwavering drive to get the game played and trust in Knizia’s design chops.

Going into our first play, I understood that Beowulf shared some similarities with it’s more popular sibling, Taj Mahal.  Players manage their own hand of cards and must decide how to commit their cards during sequential auctions; yet knowing when to quit an auction (or not even attempt it) and settle for a lesser reward is equally important.  The two designs branch off in different directions from there.

Players act as comrades to Beowulf as he progresses through the legendary events of his story.  The player who has earned the most fame over the course of play will be crowned victor of the game and successor to Beowulf himself upon his passing.  The tabletop experience takes you through a series of minor and major events.  Minor events present players will quick, simple decisions to help them prepare for major events which can be a couple different types of auctions.

Players will either bid simultaneously or, more often, in a clockwise cycle where the highest bidders (or last to pass) will get first-dibs on the bonuses of the event.  Some of these rewards aren’t bonuses at all, rather they can be scratches or wounds that become massive problems if a player accumulates too many by the end of the journey.

Each auction is tied to a couple different card suits (out of five possible options), and thus these are the only cards you can play from your hand to gun for the best prizes.  The brilliant twist here is that you are not fully restricted by what is in your hand.  Each time it’s your turn to raise or match the bid, you can actually start your turn by choosing to take a “Risk” action.  This simply means that you will flip over the top two cards from the deck—any cards that match the current auction’s suit requirements are automatically added to your bid.  But this optional action isn’t called “Risk” for nothing.  If your two revealed cards do not match the current auction’s suit, then you are immediately eliminated from the auction and you must take a scratch token (three scratches turn into a wound, and three or more wounds will decimate your end-game score).

So not only are a playing a game of chicken against your opponents—deciding when to commit all your resources against a competitor versus when to pull back and reserve your cards for a potentially better or easier prize down the road—but you can also press-your-luck against the deck itself in hopes of scrounging up exactly what you need to stay in the auction.

While the biggest barrier to entry was motivating myself to acquire, learn, and play Beowulf, that didn’t stop me from plunging myself and four other newcomers straight into the “advanced rules.”  This basically adds another type of auction (with money) that we all handled and enjoyed just fine.  And the aged production didn’t get in the way of us having a blast.

I’m honestly a bit baffled that Beowulf: The Legend isn’t more highly rated by BGG users.  An average rating of 6.4 isn’t bad, but it isn’t amazing either.  My hunch is that some folks find it to be a bit too long (our play was much longer than the promised 60 minutes), or too luck-dependent (you can certainly be hosed by the Risk mechanism).  But I was fully engaged from start to finish, and I found the card draw element to be quite thrilling as the cost of busting can be quite painful yet the reward for success is endlessly enticing.  I also had the luxury of playing the game at the strongly recommended 5-player count.  But even then, the game tailors the auction rewards to the exact player count of the session, so I have to imagine that 3 and 4 player games are better than most folks give it credit for.  I’ll likely find out before too long.

Current Rating: 8.5/10

On December 11, 2005, I played Beowulf  with my friends.

Our next Kickstarter project, Trailblazers, launches on August 16!  The pre-launch page is live where you can click to be notified the moment it launches.  Bitewing Games is only made possible and kept alive by the support of backers and fans of our published games.   Thanks for your support!

Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share experiences that, much like a bitewing x-ray, provide a unique perspective and refreshing interaction.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. TylerD

    Ooh, I’m surprised by that Carpe Diem take. It’s one of three Felds I’ve really taken to. That scoring system is so surprisingly devious, I feel like you’re undercutting it quite a bit. It’s really what makes the game and feels to me like something I would find in a Knizia title. The fact that all the work you do in a round is contingent on working towards a scoring goal, but you have to watch your opponent like a hawk because if you think they may be going for that same scoring goal, you have to beat them in turn order. This really drives the decision space of the whole game. Also a clever way to tighten options and force you to think long term and pivot as the game progresses.

    1. Nick Murray

      This is a good take, thanks for sharing Tyler! I suppose the overall game just felt too plodding for me to fully appreciate its strengths. I agree, the competitive element in the scoring is strong. But it’s the objectives themselves (collect some resources, build some buildings, etc.) that I’ve grown tired of.

      Probably more than any other designer, Feld games feel a bit too recycled for my tastes, but there are still a few titles of his that I don’t mind revisiting.

  2. John F

    Beaowulf is totally underrated! It def is best at 5 with all the rewards/penalties in play, but 3 and 4 players works just fine.

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